Following the Dalai Lama


The Dalai Lama stepping into Tawang Monastery. Photo by SUBHAMOY BHATTACHARJEE

THE CHINESE, they say, can turn their mothers into horses by playing with pronunciation. It’s inevitable, when sounds as motherly as a neighing .

But this November, Beijing was caught up with a monosyllable horse spelt differently from Mandarin. Blame it on Jetsun Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso or the 14th Dalai Lama.

What’s in Mandarin is ta in the tongue the Monpas speak. And ta, when showered with wang (blessings) – not, of course, from the Chinaman’s mother – becomes Tawang, the Monpa homeland.

So far as the Monpas are concerned, laying claim on Tawang is the Gemi – a local synonym for Chinese that means ‘anything but human’ – way of horsing around. Or, maybe, talking bull.

The bulls heading the China SEZ shop did snort when the Dalai Lama visited Arunachal Pradesh from November 8-14, spending five days in Tawang. But they didn’t threaten to bulldoze his spiritual programme unlike the pen, camera and boom-wielding army of the Indian media.

A fetish for ‘diplomatic stories’ made some mediapersons interpret the Dalai Lama’s standard, seemingly innocuous lines vis-à-vis Beijing’s claim on Tawang and the rest of Arunachal Pradesh.

Do you really need to come all the way from New Delhi, spending over Rs 35,000 for a four-day stay, to do a diplomatic story from Tawang? Or does the Dalai Lama have to come all the way to Tawang – 37 km from the edge of his Tibetan homeland that China has occupied for good – to poke Beijing? (Tawang, by the way, was his stopover when he escaped from Lhasa 50 years ago)

If the Dalai Lama inadvertently angered the Red Dragon, he also unwittingly helped raise Tawang’s tourism stock. And let the rest of India – through multi-edition print and visual media – realize how difficult life is at over 10,000 ft, both for the locals and soldiers guarding the touchy frontier.

Had it not been for the Dalai Lama, the media houses wouldn’t have cared to send their representatives to Tawang. They wouldn’t have experienced what it takes – two days from Assam’s capital Guwahati over 560 km of back-breaking road – to reach the hitherto “hidden paradise”.

Many did take the chopper from Guwahati to Tawang at Rs 3,000 per head. But the unpredictable weather put paid to their return flight. Some reluctantly hit the – bad is an understatement – road while the rest stayed put in Tawang for a few more days to fly back.

But hats off to the indomitable tourists, mostly from Kolkata, who absorbed the rough ride, battled breathlessness and altitude sickness and hobbled and wobbled to make the most of their exotic vacation.

After all, it’s the spirit that matters in the land of elevated spiritualism.

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About rahconteur

A mid-career journalist who's worked horizontally across India - from Arunachal Pradesh to Gujarat
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